How should a brand begin? Should a brand start with how or what? Many companies seem to take that approach, and while this method does help tell a company’s story, it’s not necessarily the best approach. Truthfully, strong branding often doesn’t begin with the who and what, but starts with why. Brands that begin with why are often able to better connect with their audience and establish a stronger point of difference among their competition. Branding that is centered around why not only explains your reason for existence but often, makes your brand’s story just as much about the customer (people) as it makes it about you, the brand (product/service).
While beginning with why may seem like a new concept, you’ll be surprised to learn that it’s a practice that’s being utilized by many brands already. In fact, some of the most successful, well-known and beloved brands in history are those that began with why rather than who or what.
One of the more recent brands to transition from what to why is Microsoft. In July 2014, Satya Nadella, the newly appointed CEO of the company made the statement that they needed to, “rediscover our soul.” In doing so, he suggested a new mission statement that shifts the focus away from their products and onto their customers — not as delivering long-standing software products (the what), but broadly — developing technology to help people live better lives and businesses run more efficiently (the why).
So, how does one discover their why? Chances are your “why” is already a part of your company’s day-to-day operations—you can’t make this stuff up. Your why, in the words in Mr. Nadella, just needs to be “rediscovered.”
One way to begin the discovery of ”why” is to simply answer the question itself—why are you in business? However, it often takes asking and answering the question more than once to realize the true essence of a brand. So don’t just answer the question once, ask and answer again to arrive at a meaningful and truthful answer that’s at the heart of the question.
For example, in the case of Microsoft, the brand had at one point answered the question, “why are you in business?” with the answer, “to put a computer on every desk and in every home.” While it does answer the question, the response is still focused too much on the what.
To take it further, Microsoft could have next asked, “Why does Microsoft want to put a computer on every desk and in every home?” This is perhaps how they arrived at their mission statement in 2013 which was revised to read: “to create a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value most.” This statement, while verbose, began to shift the mission from products to people, but could still be taken further by again asking why.
Why do we want to create a family of devices and services that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value most? The answer to this question is the 2014 mission statement created by Satya Nadella which could be simplified to read: “To help people live better lives and businesses run more efficiently.”
While beginning with asking why is typically a great place to start, sometimes other questions need to be asked as well to ensure your “why” is a perception shared internally and externally across key audiences. These questions can range from addressing strengths and weaknesses to explaining unique benefits and values that are inherent in your organization. Consistencies and overlaps are considered as truths and inconsistencies are flagged to be discussed for clarification. At THIEL, this is how we begin every branding project—by asking questions to “rediscover the souls” of the brands we work with.
Once your brand rediscovers its “why” the who, what and how also fall into place naturally. From there, a brand’s story is able to be fully realized and articulated in succinct key messaging that can be carried across all channels of marketing communications—internally and externally. We believe that when it comes to branding, starting with “why” is the pathway to building meaningful brands that connect with their audience.